Two students held from class for T-shirts protesting anti-immigrant legislation

Woodbridge, Va – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today asked an elementary school principal to apologize to two Latino students for holding them out of class because they wore T-shirts expressing opposition to a proposed anti-immigration law. The ACLU also asked the principal to announce that the incident will not be repeated and the free speech right of students will be protected in the future.
The ACLU’s request stems from an incident at Occoquan Elementary School last Friday. Principal Todd Erickson refused to allow Anderson Urrutia, 8, and Joseph Soriano, 5, to attend school wearing T-shirts with “Latinos Forever” written in Spanish on the front and “100% Latinos” on the back. The T-shirts were worn on the last day of a week of protests and walk-outs by Northern Virginia area students and others opposing new restrictions on immigrants being debated in Congress, although there were no protests or walk-outs at Occoquan.
“A student who skips class or starts a fight can be appropriately disciplined,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “but the right to quietly and peacefully wear political messages to school is fully protected by the First Amendment.”
“These kids were punished for expressing their ideas, which is exactly the opposite of what schools should be doing,” added Willis. “School officials may only prevent students from expressing their views when the expression substantially disrupts the educational process.”
“It’s hard to believe that these two kids were going to cause a huge commotion with their T-shirts,” said Willis. “Of course, we’ll never know, since they were nabbed at the schoolhouse door and sequestered until their parents came to retrieve them.”
In his letter to Erickson, Willis cites Tinker v. Des Moines, a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that a student’s right to wear a black armband protesting the war in Vietnam was protected by the First Amendment. Willis calls the Occoquan incident a “carbon copy” of the Tinker case.
Willis asks for Erickson to clear the students’ records of any mention of the incident, to apologize to the children and the parents, and to issue a statement indicating that T-shirts like the one worn by Urrutia and Soriano will be allowed in the future.
A copy of Willis’s letter to Erickson is available at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20060403-Latinos-forever-T-shirt.pdf.

Contact: Kent Willis (office) 804/ 644-8022

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